Like Spirit Swap, Boyfriend Dungeon is inspired by retro games – game designer and writer Tanya X. Short cites Konami’s Azure Dreams as a major influence – but it features unique approaches to gameplay and storytelling designed to be more engaging for and inclusive of today’s players.
“I was always interested in dating sims, but I had trouble getting into them when they were just visual novels,” says Short. “I loved Azure Dreams on PS1 because I could do a little bit of dating and a little bit of something else – fighting monsters, crafting, or something like that.”
As enjoyable as her time with Azure Dreams was, Short still felt like there was something missing from the experience. “Even though I had a silent protagonist who didn’t talk, I was still being alienated as myself because I was only allowed to date a certain kind of person,” she explains. With Boyfriend Dungeon, she and the team at Kitfox Games set out to create an experience where players can date any character – and however many of them – they choose.
Like Soft Not Weak, Kitfox Games is a diverse studio, and they wanted their game to reflect that. Each team member gave input on things like character design and storytelling, and the studio hired diversity consultants for groups that weren’t represented. “We started asking, ‘How can we make people feel more welcome, more included?’ and not make something that tells someone it’s not for them, that it’s for somebody else,” says Short.
The result is a thematically complex game that engages many different relationship topics, from consent to polyamory. The audience response has been positive overall, although some genre purists have claimed that the game “isn’t a true dating sim” because the end goal isn’t finding one singular person to fall in love with.
“We’ve seen two kinds of positive responses,” says Short. “One is people saying that they’re able to be themselves in a dating sim, which they’ve never been able to do before. They can be romantic but asexual, they can be polyamorous, or whatever it is that games traditionally lock away.”
The game has also provided some players with a space for self-reflection and experimentation. “The other response we’ve gotten that’s been really positive is that they’ve been able to explore more types of love than they normally would,” continues Short. “Even if they’re straight, they’re able to try out something different. That’s been really rewarding for some folks, and I’m glad that we can enable that.”
Source: Unity Technologies Blog